One’s body can do strange things when you have just received news that you are a World Debating Champion. This is what Candidate Allan Gray Fellow, Fenelesibonge Maswhama, realised soon after being heralded the 2016 Debating World Champions along with debating partner Bo Seo.
“An odd mix of relief, exhaustion, and excitement,” is how Maswhama described sensation of winning. The tournament followed a British parliamentary style format and competitors received debate topics 15 minutes in advance of each round. “You’re asking your body to do a lot, like concentrat[e], think very fast, b[e] anxious between decisions, so I think we just collapsed,” Mashwama said. “It is physically exacting.”
This year’s competition was held in Thessaloniki, Greece; its winners hail from Australia (Seo) and Swaziland, respectively; and they entered the competition as members of an American university’s debating team. A cosmopolitan mix indeed. What’s more, Mashwama and Seo met in Cape Town before they both decided to go to Harvard University. One of the reasons Maswhama chose Harvard was because of its debating team – quite strategic since Harvarders have already walked away with the World Champion title twice before. Seo credits their diversity as the reason for their success.
The duo from Harvard competed against hundreds of students from more than 250 institutions across the globe. They had the advantage of having been finalists at the previous year’s competition. They knew what to expect. Kind of. In the final round of this year’s championship, Seo and Mashwama argued that the global poor would be justified in pursuing a Marxist revolution. “We certainly hadn’t prepped for the poor having a Marxist revolution as a topic,” said Seo. However, being a political major and having a philosopher as partner was especially helpful because they understood the big ideas.
One of the team’s coaches, Sarah M. C. Balakrishnan, attributes their success to the chemistry they share: “Bo is a really eloquent and probing speaker who is great at excavating big ideas; Fanele, on the other hand, is best at attacking the opposing side’s claims and exploring in detail the arguments on the table … I’ve never seen them not on the same page.”
Having spent so much time in the debating trenches, sharing the same anxieties and pressures to think on one’s feet cannot but forge a great relationship. It is no wonder then that Mashwama believes, “We’ll be close friends for the rest of our lives.”